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By Tom Sloper

The Ides of January, 2006
Column #249

American mah-jongg (2005 NMJL card). Because it's a new year, players are already starting to think about the next card. One of the players in my regular group said she'd heard that the NMJL uses a computer to come up with the new hands. And just this past week, on the mahjong newsgroup, a Chinese player from Australia (who plays Japanese-style mah-jongg) inquired how the NMJL makes their new hands - he asked, "are they selected from a large archive of special hands?"

I sincerely doubt that the League uses a computer to make the card. And sure, they have an "archive" of all the past cards, but that doesn't mean they just select their hands from it. People seem to assume there's an easy method for the creation of a new card. The NMJL doesn't exactly broadcast their methods, and that's understandable - and I'm not privy to their secrets - but I'm quite sure that it's not as simple as all that.

I do consult with the AMJA, though, on the creation of their card, so I know a bit about how that one is compiled. I won't divulge any secrets there, either, but I'll just say that what I do on the AMJA's card is basically to "edit" it. I check to make sure that:

In other words, my editing duties on the AMJA card do not include balancing their card for optimal gameplay. But let's get back to the NMJL.

Regardless of what method the League uses to choose their hands to begin with, they definitely pay close attention to how the card is balanced. What is "balance" in terms of an American mah-jongg card?

Some hands are surely replaced when an imbalance is found during the NMJL's testing phase. Each year's card must be well-balanced; the continuing popularity of the game depends on it.


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© 2006 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.